Legislation to harvest biomass on CRP land

A Democrat senator is to introduce legislation to allow harvesting of biomass on land in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for use in energy generation.

Senator Tom Harkin’s (Democrat – Iowa) legislation would allow vegetation to be grown and harvested on CRP land for use as biomass energy sources. The harvesting would only be allowed under conditions that protect soil and wildlife. Iowa will have 1,499,046 acres in the CRP in October of this year.

Harkin has supported the use of biomass products since the 1970s and serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The USDA and the Department of Energy (DOE) is releasing a report examining the feasibility of planting biomass crops on existing cropland, idled cropland, pasture, and CRP land. The biomass products include switchgrass, hydbrid willow, and hybrid poplar. The report shows that biomass crops have the potential to create between $2.3 and $5.5 billion in additional net income to farmers.

“Increasing use of biomass energy sources means new farm income opportunities, greater rural economic development, energy independence, and a cleaner environment for us all,” said Harkin. “Biomass can be a key component of the future of agriculture.”

The Chariton Valley Resource, Conservation and Development (RC&D) Biomass Project in South Central Iowa has been working with USDA and DOE to develop switchgrass as a crop that can be burned with coal to produce electricity. One of the major obstacles in continued research and development of biomass fuel is a lack of consistent supply. Harkin has been involved with the Chariton Valley Project for 10 years.

“Ethanol is to gasoline what switchgrass can be to electric power,” said Harkin. “With ethanol, Iowa is already a pioneer in blending energy and agriculture. Switchgrass reduces erosion, uses little fertilizer, and improves water quality. It can be used to produce electricity through direct burning, as well as through more sophisticated technology including gasification and fuel cells.”

Harkin also intends to introduce legislation to provide at 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour tax credit to utility companies that use biomass fuels. The Clinton Administration requested a 1 cent kilowatt hour tax credit in its Financial Year 2000 budget request.

Approximately, 55% of the petroleum consumed in the US is imported. In Iowa, 98 percent of the energy consumed comes from outside the state and costs Iowa about $4 billion annually.

“Biomass fuels will increase America’s energy security,” said Harkin. “Iowans sends a huge amounts of money out of state everyday because the vast majority of their energy comes from other states and countries. Biomass fuels is a great opportunity for Iowa and America to use our own resources to produce energy. “

Harkin is expected introduce the CRP legislation this week, and the utility tax credit legislation early next month.

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